SWEET SPOT: Bon Secours Wellness Arena is an important economic driver and tourism attraction for the city with roughly 130 events a year including SEC Women’s Basketball and NCAA basketball. (Getty Images)
A Silver Celebration In Greenville
For 25 years, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, has been the touring sweet spot between Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Known as The Well, the venue was constructed for $63 million and opened Sept. 3, 1998. The 15,000-capacity arena opened as Bi-Lo Center, run by Volume Services, which later rebranded as Centerplate. The Greenville Arena District now operates the facility, with Beth Paul as general manager.
“As the general manager, Beth Paul is synonymous with Bon Secours Wellness Arena,” said Donna DiBenedetto, vice president of global touring at AEG Presents. “Beth has been a staple there since her college years and she knows all things Greenville. She is a wonderful leader in her community and overall great person to work with. The team is very attentive to the promoter or artist’s needs backstage with good dressing and catering rooms while making sure the fans have a great experience.”
“There is nothing about Bon Secours Wellness Arena that feels 25 years old,” said Grant Lyman, president of Live Nation Southeast. “Beth Paul and her team are always making improvements and asking for feedback on how to improve the artist, fan and promoter experience. The venue has gone through significant upgrades in recent years that make it an appealing option for the world’s biggest touring artists to play.”
Paul started her career at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in 1999 as accounting manager when the arena was known as the BI-LO Center. She left for a few years but returned in 2005 to be the director of finance. In 2013, she was named assistant general manager and upped to GM in 2015.
Under her leadership, the venue has consistently increased operating revenues and profits as well as the number of annual events including sports, concerts, family shows and community events. The arena, which is owned and operated by the Greenville Arena District (a political subdivision of the State of South Carolina), has a direct economic impact on the metro area, creating 1,000 jobs a year and helping the city emerge as a destination for live entertainment.
In addition to securing notable acts such as Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Elton John, Luke Combs and Pearl Jam, Paul has also elevated the diversity of artists appearing at the venue, including recent appearances by Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizárraga and Los Tigres del Norte.
The Greenville DMA, which includes Spartanburg, Anderson and Asheville, North Carolina, is ranked 36 in the U.S. with a population of more than 12 million.
“Part of the booking strategy is that we need to have events that are going to help us meet our financial goals but we also need to have events that line up with the population,” Paul explained. “My goal would be that every person in our DMA has an opportunity to come see a show – maybe not every year, but at least every other year.”
“Greenville is one of the Top 10 fastest growing cities in the U.S so the market is booming,” said DiBenedetto. “It’s very family oriented and has that hometown feel. Although the pandemic caused great setbacks for all venues, the arena is particularly focused on the local economy and creating jobs in its community and will only continue to grow. The city has a vibrant downtown that is full of restaurants, bars, cafés, coffee shops, and hotels for the touring crew to visit, too.”
“The market itself is appealing for artists as well, whether it’s great golf courses, restaurants, shopping or greenways, the city has a positive and inviting atmosphere,” added Lyman. “The arena also has a great relationship with the local BMW test track facility, which is a unique amenity to offer artist teams when they come to town.”
The venue is an important economic driver and tourism attraction for the city with roughly 130 events a year including SEC Women’s Basketball and NCAA basketball. The arena, which has had a hockey tenant nearly every year since it opened, is currently home to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL.
“As Bon Secours Wellness Arena marks their 25th Anniversary, we celebrate more than just the physical structure and events hosted,” said Heath Dillard, president and CEO of VisitGreenvilleSC, the area’s destination marketing organization. “The Well has been a catalyst for the economic prosperity for the entire region, transforming the face of entertainment in the upstate.”
According to Dillard, Visit GreenvilleSC’s partnership with the arena drives tourism because it allows the city to host large events such as Bassmaster, NCAA, Southeastern Conference women’s basketball and corporate affairs, which have an impact beyond ticket sales.
“From local bars and restaurants to hotels and other attractions, the success of The Well is felt throughout the county,” Dillard said. “For example, the Kenny Chesney concert in April 2023 drove a 10% increase in the evening’s downtown hotel occupancy YOY and average hotel rates across Greenville County were up 16% for the same date.”
“We are very focused on the impact that we have on our community,” Paul said. “Are the shows we are booking generating jobs? Are they filling up hotel rooms? Are our restaurants busy? And we measure that on a fairly regular basis and we know that that impact is between $70 and $100 million a year.”
A non-music event that will attract thousands of sports enthusiasts to Greenville is the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, which will be held at the venue through 2025. Greenville previously hosted the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in 2005, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2023, the first year of the three-year deal.
“From a conference perspective, we are trying to build brand equity around the tournament and what better way to do that than to find a venue that can support the tournament from an amenities standpoint, from a seating capacity standpoint, and the addition of a city that has really invested in a downtown that promotes walkability,” said Tiffany Daniels, associate commissioner for competition at the SEC.
The conference has 14 teams and will grow to 16 on July 1, 2024. Satisfying operational needs and providing a positive experience for the athletes, fans and institutional personnel was closely considered before the decision was made by a panel of stakeholders.
“The City of Greenville and Bon Secours Wellness Arena checked all the boxes,” Daniels explained. “The investment that’s been made in the facility. The back of house is an area where we can operate efficiently. The seating bowl provides the intimacy we seek for women’s basketball. Then you look at things that we were able to build last year on the plaza to create a fan experience to engage with our brand. It’s a special place for us.”
Daniels, who was senior associate athletic director for external affairs at Georgia State University and director of business development at the Georgia Dome before joining the SEC in 2013, has a unique perspective on what makes The Well work.
“You have to make the investment in your facility to continue to change and evolve with the market and I think Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Beth and her staff have done a wonderful job,” Daniels explained. “They are technologically advanced and they have the facility space that is needed for folks like us to come in with this basketball tournament, but the heartbeat of that facility is the people.”
In addition to focusing on the bottom line, Paul seeks opportunities to be a better corporate citizen and give back to the community. Her personal goals include job creation, becoming a difference-maker and better serving those in need.
The arena has a program called STAGE (Serving Together the Arena’s Giving Experience), with the mission of finding ways to benefit the non-profit community including Upstate Warrior Solution, Project Host and Loaves & Fishes. Four Habitat for Humanity houses have been constructed on the arena floor. Nonprofits have free or reduced rent for fundraisers.
A partnership with Bon Secours dubbed Well-Walkers provides access to the arena concourse on Tuesday and Thursday to promote health and wellness and exercise out of the elements. Initiatives serve individuals with disabilities including a Sensory Suite, which opened in 2019, and access to ice skating with Skate Roll & Stroll.
“What people don’t realize is how great our team is,” said Neetu Patel, chairman of the nine-member Greenville Arena District Board. “Going all the way down to line level employees, Beth has built a culture there and it’s what makes all the guests happy.”
The venue location is a plus, situated across the street from the original 7,500-cap Greenville Municipal Auditorium that was razed in 1997. The arena is the gateway to the central business district with two large outdoor marquees that are visible to 68,00-70,000 vehicles daily.
“As concertgoers, as fans come into Greenville’s downtown corridor, the arena is the very first thing you see,” Paul said. “I can’t imagine a better location.”
What she could use is more storage, a wider concourse and a freight elevator. “Anything to increase the fan and artist amenities — that’s always on the wish list,” said Paul, who occasionally gets “building envy.”
Venue partners include Levy Restaurants, Stage Tech Productions and Johnson Controls. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena has a capital plan each year to stay ahead of maintenance and major mechanical issues, but no immediate plans for renovations.
As the team approaches their milestone anniversary – which kicks off Sept. 3 with Spirit Fest, an annual gospel music event that has been held at the arena since it opened – Paul is focused on the next 25 years and setting the arena up for future success.
“We focus on the experience when the artist is here,” she said. “We might have a little age, but the culture and the soul of the building provides a really excellent experience for the artist through fan engagement, through how the crew is treated when they are here, and all the ancillary things we do for an artist, crew or promoter.”
Patel added,“Our intention is to build on the rich history and implement strategy to remain relevant and continue to drive world-class entertainment for many years to come. For the next 25 years, we want to be as relevant as we are today. Meaning we want to continue to be a place that puts smiles on our guests’ faces.”